TesseracT’s James Monteith Talk ‘Polaris’ Album, Touring + More
TesseracT are back on tour stateside as the year winds down. The band is sharing stages with The Contortionist, Erra and Skyharbor while promoting their new album Polaris. The album finds the band reuniting with vocalist Daniel Tompkins and the change can be felt on the disc. We recently had a chance to catch up with TesseracT guitarist James Monteith (pictured second in from left) about the new album, the band's evolution and discuss their current tour. Check out the chat below:
Congrats on the new album. Can you tell me a little about how 'Polaris' came together? Did you have an idea of how you wanted to approach it going in or was it more of an on-the-spot thing that developed during recording?
Musically it came about very much in the same way as our previous records… a collection of riffs and melodies came together which developed into songs. There was no real set agenda, but ensuring something fresh and different was key. Acle experimented a lot with guitar tones and dynamic picking, which was quite different from our previous work. As the songs formed and Dan started producing vocal ideas the album took formation and then the overall Polaris theme came about. It was very much an organic process.
I've read where you've described 'Polaris' as the "transient nature of universal truth." Can you discuss the musical direction of the disc and what led you down this musical path?
Life is change, nothing stays the same, everything is evolving. This is true in everything, none less than the music of TesseracT. It’s important for us to explore new ideas and keep pushing forward; we’d never want to produce a record that sounds like the previous one. As mentioned before, the direction wasn’t a preconceived idea, it was just the natural path the writing process took.
The band saw a transition from the last album in that Dan is back as the vocalist. I realize he was back with the band before recording, but can you talk about what Dan's return and getting reconnected prior to the album creation meant to the making of this disc?
Dan returned right at the start of the main writing process and revitalized all our enthusiasm and excitement, and I think this comes across on the record. He came in and gave it 200% in effort.. when we were on tour last October / November, he spent every spare minute demoing and generating ideas, and this hard work paid off in terms of his quality of writing, but also inspired the riff creation and arrangements in a big way.
"Messenger" is a pretty powerful track. Can you discuss how that song came about and what inspired it?
Well.. the riff itself was inspired by Alice in Chains.. we were watching them at Soundwave last year and there was one particular riff that was very unique.. Acle took that idea and wrote a selection of riffs in tesseract’s style that were inspired by its groove, and an early version of messenger came about. Dan’s vocal work then helped to form the song that it is on the record.
"Survival" deals with life going on when you're not there. As traveling musicians, how important was that track to write and what was the response of your respective families to that song?
The lyrical content of the song is very personal and important to Dan and I think it was very much is way of dealing with the difficulties of being away from his wife and son for extended periods of time. As a father too, it particularly resonates for me, too. Touring is tough for us, but doubly hard for the families we leave behind. A month is like a lifetime for a child, and our wives’ lives become much more difficult and stressful. In a way it’s also a public thank you to them for supporting us in this crazy thing called being in a band.
You're back on the road as we speak. Just started a tour with The Contortionist, Erra and Skyharbor. Can you talk about the bands on the trek with you and what they bring? What is your relationship with each of the bands and how is it going so far?
The lineup is great, we’re so happy that such a great and diverse bunch were free to come out with us! Skyharbor – these guys are old friends of ours. We’ve known Keshav (guitar) from the Internet days and toured with the band a number of times. In my day job, I work with Basick Records, so I’ve worked with the guys for some time now, promoting their music in the UK. Dan was also their original vocalist and has performed on two albums, so there’s a big musical connection too.
Erra, I’d not heard these guys before, but they are a great addition to the lineup: Brutal technical riffing, crushing lead vocals with the occasional melodic injection are what these guys do best. It’s great to have a heavier band on the tour.
The Contortionist, I’m a huge fan of this band, their album Language was probably one of favorites of 2014. Live they are phenomenal: they play prog metal with huge amounts of atmosphere whilst oozing sophistication and dynamics. We’re on a long haul with these guys as they’re coming to Europe with us in 2016.
Getting on tour, any new songs that are amongst your favorites to play and why? Is there a song off the album you haven't gotten to yet that you're keen to eventually work into the set list?
I’m really enjoying all the new stuff.. "Dystopia" and "Messenger" are particularly fun. "Survival" is getting a good crowd reaction which is great to see. We’re currently practicing a few new songs in soundcheck so watch this space!
You've been doing a thing where Dan offers vocal coaching, Jay's giving drum clinics and I've even seen the post about you offering guitar lessons to learn the Top Gun theme. What led you to this interest in sharing your craft with your fans in a more personal way?
Haha! The Top Gun theme was a joke, but I don’t think anyone got it as that particular post got zero responses!! Luckily for me some of our fans were keen to learn some stuff a little closer to home though. It’s a great way to meet musical fans, share knowledge and it’s very enjoyable for all of us. It’s also a good way to make a bit of survival cash, as touring is very uncertain financially, so it’s good to have some cash to send home to feed the family!
Favorite moments from connecting with fans via lessons and have you been surprised by the skill level of any of those partaking in these lessons?
There was this time somewhere in Europe, when a student came in and showed me how he’d worked out a riff and it was insane! The riff in question spanned over a large part of the fretboard and used mainly hammer-ons to get it up to a fairly fast speed. However this guy worked it out by picking every note, which was insane to watch and impossible for me to play! I showed him the proper (easy way) to do it and he was relieved haha.
Beyond this tour, what's on the horizon for Tesseract? What's the end of 2015 and early 2016 look like for you and what should we expect?
We next take the tour out to Europe and as I mentioned above we’re going out with The Contortionist. After that we’re hitting up the European summer festivals and then hopefully we’ll get out to some further reaching places. We also hope to return to the USA sometime next year too. Then I guess it’s onto the next record…!
Anything we didn't mention that you'd like to promote or add in speaking with fans?
If you’re a TesseracT fan, thank you very much for supporting us, please come and check us out on one of the upcoming dates! If you’ve not heard us before please give us a listen… you might like us, too. Thanks!
Many thanks to TesseracT's James Monteith for the interview. The band's Polaris album is out now. You can pick it up via Amazon and iTunes. Catch TesseracT on tour with The Contortionist, Erra and Skyharbor at these locations. And get a glimpse at the band's video for "Survival" below.
Watch TesseracT's "Survival" Video